BL Roundtable: Conclusions: I didn’t make him for you!

Posted by on June 11th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Opening shots by Shaenon Garrity, Noah Berlatsky and Kinukitty; Sidebar by Dirk Deppey; and conclusions by Berlatsky, Garrity and Kinukitty.


Perhaps the best criticism applied to Boys’ Love Manga came courtesy of Noah Berlatsky, who wrote:

So to all these gender-theory steeped writers trying so hard to show that they’ve overturned patriarchy, heteronormativity, and even the c-word of capitalism itself, I say to you: the next time you read a BL manga or slash fiction story? If you really want to be subversive, instead of trying to figure out what that story says about yaoi readers and the yaoi community, and gender and homosexuality and what have you — could you start by figuring out whether you like it? Not whether you like yaoi in general, but whether you like that particular story.

I note this at the outset because the above critique could be applied just as easily to my own essay. Truth to tell, there isn’t a great deal of BL that I enjoy. I like the work of Fumi Yoshinaga, who possesses an admirably deft touch with characterization and situation. I’m fascinated by what I’ve read of Moto Hagio’s BL-tinged work — not so much for its representation of homosexuality but rather because Hagio is clearly using the subject to shine a light on the complications that gender itself brings to our lives, a topic that interests me as well. Some of the more directly pornographic yaoi that I’ve seen has been quite arousing, although much of it suffers from the whole girl’s-idea-of-a-boy thing, which often impedes my immersion in the scenario. That said, much of BL just flies right by me.

The female perspective on gay life depicted in boys’-love manga is more pertinent to the female perspective than it is to gay life. This is neither criticism nor complaint. The overwhelming majority of shōnen-ai and yaoi comics were created by and for women, after all, for reasons that have nothing to do with me or anyone like me — their perspective is what matters, and that’s how it should be. As Kinukitty notes:

Yaoi fanfic is an exercise in getting exactly the kind of porn you want. If we have to then go forth and dissect why, we should at least start from a sane and explicable premise.

Each of the other participants in this roundtable brings vested interests in one or more of its subjects: For Noah, it’s the scholarly world, while Kinukitty sounds like as committed a BL fan as you’re likely to find. Shaenon Garrity, familiar with both academic and fujoshi culture but seemingly a half-step removed from both, produced what I suspect is probably the fairest and most even-handed contribution.

By contrast, I have no real investment in either culture. Kristy Valenti suggested me for this roundtable on the grounds that a gay-male perspective might be interesting. I gave it my best shot, but aside perhaps for a hard-won disgust for sexual fascism, mine is the viewpoint least necessary to a debate about guy-on-guy erotic stories written by and for women. I’m basically irrelevant to the discussion… which is why my own essay was so circumloquacious, why I so readily agreed that it should be set aside by a day as a sort of sidebar to the conversation, and why I think I’ll be ending my response here. Weird as it may sound regarding a literary genre devoted to men fucking each other, I just don’t have a cock in this fight. So to speak.


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2 Responses to “BL Roundtable: Conclusions: I didn’t make him for you!

  1. Noah Berlatsky says:

    It’s interesting that there is in fact a small but I don’t think entirely inconsequential group of gay male yaoi fans. You certainly hear more about that than about straight male yaoi fans — though I presume that the latter must be out there as well to some extent (I qualify marginally, since I like at least a couple of series I guess.)

  2. JRBrown says:

    According to Dru Pagliassotti’s 2005 survey (and another similar survey about that time by Antonia Levi), around 10% of English-speaking BL readers (who respond to online surveys) are male, and of those a subset identifies as straight (about 2% of men in Pagliassotti’s dataset vs 12% in Levi’s). On the other hand, Robin Brenner reports an informal library-based survey of teenage readers that found around 25% male readers, including “a few” who identified as straight.